In a mould of his own

Sculptor Andries Dirks

Hard knocks in life didn’t deter this man from fulfilling his destiny as a sculptor.

Overcoming mountains is exactly what Andries Dirks did to turn his life around. Dire poverty, growing up by his lonesome with his paternal grandparents on a remote farm, severe bullying at school and then lengthy jail time for some pretty serious crimes all left their scars. But these days, he sees the world as if newly created.

At his Riebeek-Kasteel studio – called Klipkind (Stone child) – Andries surrenders to his medium of clay and revels in creating remarkable sculptures. His latest stand-out piece is “Unlocking the Truth”.

‘I created this in response to the electricity crisis and André de Ruyter’s controversial interview,’ he explained. ‘It’s a Khoi bust without arms because many of our Khoi people are helpless with the continuous loadshedding and corruption at Eskom. That’s why I included coal trucks (that constitute the billions disappearing monthly), a pole with copper wire, a hand with long fingers, a bundle of money and the cup with which they tried to poison De Ruyter. The chain symbolises the efforts to keep him quiet.’

Honouring his Khoi background, Andries is passionate about depicting Khoi history in his work. But funnily enough, in real life, it’s the hare who wins. And so it was too for Klipkind. He has become known far and wide for his hare sculptures – with several gracing homes overseas. ‘As a child, I kept a hare near my play area. And to this day, my uncatchable childhood pet is the inspiration for these clay sculptures,’ he said. ‘However, because I want each to be unique, I don’t use moulds. Instead I mix in paper pulp to strengthen the final product.’

Andries admitted that growing up knowing that both his alcoholic mother and wayward father abandoned him as a child, plus the severe bullying at school impacted his life greatly psychologically. ‘I dropped out of school in Standard 4 and subsequently made some really bad choices. For this I paid dearly at the tender age of 19 when sentenced to more than 13 years’ imprisonment. Luckily, in 2004 I went on the straight and narrow.’

After being released from prison, he spent nine years doing maintenance work at Goedgedacht guest farm, worked in Riebeek Valley gardens for R150 a day and washed dishes for a local restaurant. Then he got his big break when a Monaco-based benefactor offered to sponsor his Short Street studio. Since 2016, Andries has been involved with Solo Studios and his dream is to be able to sculpt in bronze – only the prohibitive cost holds him back.

In the future, he wants to teach children to work with the beautiful form and feature of clay. ‘I want to share my skills – leaving a legacy so to speak.’

Now 50, Andries is married and the proud father of five children, of which one is adopted. Guess what he likes to do for relaxation? Dig up clay. As Harivanshrai Bachchan said, ‘A body of clay, a mind full of play, a moment’s life – that’s me.’

My armchair sport is rugby
Favourite West Coast place is !Khwa ttu near Yzerfontein
My favourite restaurant is Panera in Riebeek-Kasteel
I love eating green salad
My signature drink is fruit juice
On TV, I enjoy any reality show